Camping out in the ’50s

When I was growing up, the mother of my classmate Nancy Gay Hall was our scout troop leader, and she worked hard to make sure we had good scouting experiences.  I remember well the time Mrs. Hall  took us to the family’s lake house for my one and only camp out.  Girl Scout Troop 15 (Huntsville, TX) camped outside in sleeping bags under the stars while the adult chaperones retreated to the luxuries of the lake house and comfortable beds.

Before bedtime, however, we learned how to cook our supper in a coffee can.

Yes, that’s right.

Under the adults’ watchful supervision, we built a fire and then Mrs. Hall divvied ingredients. We’d been told to bring an empty coffee can, but I’d forgotten mine. My best friend Margaret Prentice’s mom graciously gave me hers. Margaret was fine with this… until the meals were “done.”

Our cooking pots were filled with of ground hamburger patties, chopped carrots, sliced onions, and chunks of potatoes and sealed with aluminum foil. We placed them directly into the fire, screaming excitedly as girls do, while Mrs. Hall and Mrs. Prentice warned us repeatedly, “Be careful. Don’t get burned.” I imagine we looked like little witches circling the fire and asking every five minutes, “Is it done yet? Can we eat now?” We asked at least nine times, maybe twelve before Mrs. Hall gave the go-ahead along with stern admonishes to avoid scorching our fingers when we peeled back the heated aluminum covering.

Margaret remembers how badly her food burned in its can–it was absolutely inedible while my dinner cooked in her mother’s can was “perfectly cooked.” She still recalls how she wanted to claim her mother’s can and its contents. She didn’t, of course, but she was not a happy camper at that point. Thankfully, Margaret was able to fill her hungry tummy with dessert.

The dessert was amazing!

Mrs. Hall laid out graham crackers, marshmallows, and Hershey’s chocolate on the family picnic table, and we broke off chocolate squares to fit our graham crackers. Then, we placed marshmallows on the ends of twisted coat hangers and stuck them in the fire. Mrs. Hall warned us: “Don’t poke out an eye.”

Some of the girls worked hard at getting their marshmallows a perfect golden brown, but most of us let the marshmallows catch fire and burn brightly till the outsides were blackened ash covering a sweet sticky center. (Occasionally, a marshmallow slipped off the hanger and splatted on the ground and we had to start all over.)

We placed the hot marshmallows on our chocolate and smashed down another cracker atop the concoction to make S’mores.  After a couple of gooey cookies, Margaret forgot about the main course, and our friendship survived.

Although I’ve never replicated the coffee can meal, I’ve made S’mores over and over and over again. This may have been the evening I became hopelessly addicted to chocolate.

I recently read there are 2.6 million Girl Scouts today and that in celebration of its 100 years of selling cookies, the organization is introducing new Girl Scout S’mores in select markets during the 2017 campaign. Well, let me say this, they can combine, refine, and tweak all they want, they will never replicate the amazing flavor (and experience) of the S’mores we made on that cookout back in the day.

Re-framing my life story

I attended an amazing LifeLines Retreat last weekend, sponsored by Story Circle Network. We met in the Texas Hill Country in historic Fredericksburg. The retreat was facilitated by Jeanne Guy, an extraordinary woman, who gave the participants permission to dig deeply and become vulnerable because she modeled that openness for us.

Jeanne is a reflective-writing coach who is absolutely masterful at creating a safe place for people to look at the story they’re telling themselves and “re-story” it… that is, reframe the way they see themselves so they can live more authentically. You may think that’s too new age-y for your blood, but I can assure you, it is not.

For me, the weekend was about being honest about the life I want as a creative person. I will admit to you, being honest meant finding the courage to face facts: my roadblocks are built by my own doing. Period. I felt guilty to admit that I put myself last on my list… that I do not take care of myself and as a result, I have some rather serious health issues that are sucking the life from me. It’s humiliating to publicly make such an admission, but the good news is that I can change the direction of this tragic self-sabotaging story.

And I am.

The weekend was life changing. I faced the barriers that throw up roadblocks to my writing.  I met an astounding group of like-minded, courageous women from Ohio, Texas, and states in-between. We shared deeply about the pain of being drained dry, stuck, frustrated, and fearful. We left with renewed energy and the confidence live our creative lives fully… with more joie de vivre and less fear.

Deeply listening with my heart’s ear to other women gave me the willingness to dig deeply into my own story and change its trajectory.  I no longer trapped by my past “bad” choices. I have created a turning point in my story, and I’m headed in a joyful, intentional,  life-affirming direction.

Thank you, Jeanne. And thank you, Marsha, Trish, Linda (both of you), Veronica, Jenn, Laurie, Ann, Hope, Suzanne, Allison… You are truly Wonder(ful) Women.